DIR/WRI: Daniel Ribeiro • Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque • PRO: Diana Almeida, Daniel Ribeiro • DOP: Pierre de Kerchove • ED: Cristian Chinen • DES: Olivia Helena Sanches • CAST: Ghilherme Lobo, Fabio Audi, Tess Amorim
Some films can’t help it. They just make you leave the cinema with a big smile on your face. Brazilian director Daniel Ribeiro’s The Way He Looks is one such film. A feature length adaption of Ribeiro’s 2010 short I Don’t Want to Go Back, the film follows Leonardo or Leo (Lobo), a blind teenager living in a leafy middle-class suburb who yearns for greater independence. He is determined to break away from the mundanity that marks his everyday existence and even more determined that his disability will not prevent him from achieving this goal. Unfortunately, Leo’s overprotective parents and cruelly indifferent schoolmates have other plans in mind. Only Giovana (Amorim), Leo’s constant companion since childhood, serves as a form of consolation in his life. Things change, however, when the dashing Gabriel (Audi) joins their class in school and begins to stir up new emotions in Leo, prompting him on a journey of emotional and sexual self-discovery.
This summary makes the film sound rather clichéd and while admittedly the themes explored in this story are by no means groundbreaking, Ribeiro presents them in such a fresh and pleasing way that it’s impossible not to be enraptured by his directorial prowess. Though this is not to say the film is mere fluff. There is a tenderness and depth here that is aided greatly by the cast’s thoughtful performances. It is fascinating to watch Leo, a character who is both so vulnerable and yet so strong, distance himself from the expectations of others – even his own- to pursue what makes him happy. The duality of his blindness, both physically and emotionally, plays an integral part in the film yet never feels hammy or laboured. Ribeiro never lingers too long on these allusions as though to say ‘Get it? Get it?’ but gives his visuals enough time and space to have an impact. This film is sincere in a way a lot of coming-of-age dramas are not. The interaction between the teenage characters feels genuine; they joke with another, poke fun at one another, get drunk together and generally just laze around which is something any teenager can relate to. Feelings are hurt when invitations to the cinema are not extended to everyone in the group and the ever lingering sexual tension that exists between pubescent’s teetering on the edge of adulthood is present throughout. The audience knows exactly what it is the characters on screen want but we still have to watch them figure it out for themselves – not unlike the parents of actual teenagers.
There are times when the dialogue does come across a little clunky, particularly in the scenes with Leo’s parents, but this may come down to problems in translation more than delivery or writing. Otherwise, this is an almost perfect piece of work that certainly deserves a place amongst the Oscar’s Best Foreign Language Film category. The Way He Looks is a sweet and touching film that never loses it sincerity in favour of being emotionally manipulative. A must watch.
The Way He Looks is released 24th October 2014